John Brewer: Building a Supply Chain Step by Step

John Brewer: Building a Supply Chain Step by Step

John Brewer is director of distribution and logistics with CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., the company behind quick-serve restaurant brands Carl’s Jr. and Hardees.

Responsibilities: Ensuring 3,000 restaurant locations receive their products on time, accurately, and cost effectively. Working with four partners to manage 19 distribution centers, while also managing 250 vendors across the country.

Experience: Senior manager, distribution and logistics, also with CKE Restaurants Holdings; logistics and distribution manager, and transportation manager with ACH Food Companies.

Education: Studied architecture at the University of Memphis and drafting and design at Northwest Mississippi Community.

I grew up with Legos, and own a few adult Lego sets now. Working with them helps me gain a big picture perspective.

You’ve got to be able to see everything, and also see things that are not there, like a sculptor sees a monument within the marble. Whatever you’re building may not look like anything until you finish, so you have to take it methodically: step one, step two, step three.

That’s how I see a supply chain across the country. If I have problems downstream, this approach helps me figure out where to go upstream to fix it.

When I was hired at CKE, the company had just changed distribution partners for Carl’s Jr. One of my initial jobs was to complete the transition and get everything up and running with minimal disruption to about 1,200 stores that were served by five different distribution centers. We finished in about six months.

I’m a firm believer in being out in the field at the distribution centers. I make sure things are going well and stand next to the people who make it happen and support them. I answer questions and communicate with our company operators and franchisees, so everyone knows what’s going on.

At ACH, a food retail company that sells to grocery and big-box stores, we found ourselves in a capacity crunch in late 2014. Over-the-road trucks were hard to find and expensive. So, we accelerated the shipment date by one day and converted a lot of our shipments to intermodal. This gave us the capacity to serve our customers and allowed us to move products at a much cheaper rate.

It also balanced the work week at our distribution centers, so they could better plan their labor needs. It was a triple win across the board.

In supply chain management, you need to be resilient and resourceful and have a strong think-outside-the-box mentality. “The way we’ve always done it” may not apply anymore because the environment has changed. A lot of our internal and external customers look to supply chain professionals as the port in the storm. You need to keep pushing forward and never give up. It helps to be stubborn. I’m not sure if that’s a good trait or a bad trait, but right now it works for me.

Before I started in supply chain, I had been working my way through architecture school. I got married and needed to bring in more income. An asset-based truck line in Memphis was looking for dispatchers, and they paid about two dollars more per hour than I was making at a grocery store. I jumped in that seat, and it was a pure adrenaline rush every day.

When fires are burning, if you’ve done your job and with a little luck, at the end of the day, you’re dealing with smoldering embers. Then, you come back the next day and it’s a different set of problems.

I like the creativity and helping people. I was bit by the bug and stayed in supply chain ever since.

John Brewer Answers the Big Questions

1. What is your hidden talent?

In my spare time, I write supply chain parody songs with a guy in Chattanooga. I write the lyrics and he adds music and vocals. For instance, Truck Drivin’ Blues is a parody of Workin’ Man Blues by Merle Haggard. And Long Haul Comin’ is a riff of Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress by The Hollies.

2. What is your favorite band?

AC/DC. I am going to be trouble when I get to the rest home. I’ll have a boom box strapped to the front of my walker and blast it as loud as it’ll go.

3. What book has had a personal or professional impact on you?

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D. It sets you up for success in supply chain because this sector evolves at a very quick pace. This book helps you deal with change.

4. What would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Drop the attitude. When you’re 18, you think you know everything and nobody can tell you anything. Then you get into the real world, and you find out just how much you don’t know.